Tom Brokaw wrote a book titled The Greatest Generation referring to the exploits of the generation that survived the Great Depression, won World War II, and gave their children a country with many financially assets and few liabilities. They also raised the generation of what became known as the Baby Boomers, of which I am a member. Boy, have we blown it! Historians will write volumes as to how the Boomers squandered their parent’s legacy.
Below is another Boomer’s take on our generation. Written some time ago by Jim Mahoney who has been a guest author on this Blog, it offers great insight on how we traveled down the wrong path. It was written in response to an op-ed in our local newspaper by one of those narcissistic Boomers spouting Progressive dribble. I have posted the dribble after Jim’s response for any who feel the need to read it.
Hopefully our children will learn from our mistakes. They could start by reading Jim’s editorial.
The Baby Boomers, By Jim Mahoney
In a recent Another View column, David Vaida lamented the current state of voter apathy and lack of volunteerism. Using the lyrics of Cream as a backdrop, his solution was to bring back the activism of the 1960s. As a Baby Boomer myself I feel that this is the wrong approach since many of the problems we are experiencing today can be directly traced back to the 60s revolution.
We Baby Boomers were the product of our parents’ well meaning intentions. Having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, their greatest hope was to give us lives free from the struggles they had faced. The majority of 60s radicals came not from poverty, but from a level of middle class privilege provided by their parents’ hard work. We recklessly decided to reject everything about our parents’ generation without ever thinking they had something to teach us. Almost overnight, the Greatest Generation’s culture of optimism was replaced by the Boomer’s culture of cynicism. Let’s take another musical journey to examine the lasting impression the Baby Boomer generation has made on our society.
Our first selection is Pink Floyd’s “Money”. Baby Boomers saw the standard of living our parents spent a lifetime to achieve and decided we wanted the same thing without having to wait until we could afford it. Boomers used credit to acquire more and more possessions and racked up unprecedented levels of personal debt. To support our lavish lifestyles we have saved virtually nothing for our retirement, leaving a future burden for our children. The 60s radicals who rejected the materialism of their parents ended up becoming the most materialistic generation in history. Even an idealist like Mr. Vaida admits spending more for 2 concert tickets to the Cream reunion than I paid for my first car.
Our next hit comes from Crosby, Stills and Nash with “Teach Your Children”. Perhaps the biggest failure of the Baby Boomer generation is what we have done to our children. Ignoring thousands of years of accumulated parenting knowledge, we became the first generation of parents who wanted to be friends to our children instead of providing them with moral authority and boundaries of behavior. In the mistaken belief that giving children everything they want is synonymous with giving them everything they need; we have created a self indulgent generation of young people with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and little concern for anything beyond their immediate needs.
The Boomers’ contribution to education brings to mind Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”. As Baby Boomers moved into positions of authority in our public schools and universities we decided that the basic curriculum was no longer relevant and threw out the traditional methods of teaching. Our schools now teach students about everything America did wrong while emphasizing none of the things that made us great. Every student knows that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but none of them have learned about the brilliance of the Constitution our founding fathers created. Students receive little or no basic education in History, Civics or Economics. They have no historical context of what it means to be an American. If anything they have learned that Americans have no reason to be proud of anything about ourselves.
The Boomers promoted the idea of moral relativism with no absolutes of right and wrong, only differences of opinion. Anything that pokes a finger in the eye of American culture is celebrated while values-based organizations like the Boy Scouts are vilified. Our movies and television programs glorify the most negative aspects of our society and thanks to a Baby Boomer ex president; our young people now believe that oral sex isn’t really sex.
The Baby Boomers, one of the most self absorbed generations in history, have raised a generation of self absorbed children with little sense of history, civic responsibility or duty to others. Why is Mr. Vaida surprised that they aren’t voting or volunteering for non profit organizations? The problems of this country cannot be simplistically solved by the wisdom contained in Cream lyrics or some gassy counterculture rhetoric. I think The Eagles best express my advice to Mr. Vaida and other Baby Boomers who wistfully long for the resurrection of radical 60s activism – “Get over it.”
How nostalgia can foster passion and citizenship, by David Vaida
Nostalgia is my least favorite emotion. I think it’s because I have absorbed the American idea of always looking forward. As a child, my father told me that the good old days are right now, so I grew up in a household where the past barely existed. George Santayana’s dictum that ”those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” was an irrelevant saying by a vaguely known philosopher.
Until last week, I experienced nostalgia only once in my half century of life on this planet. It was Jan. 13, 1993, the day after Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was on the New Jersey Turnpike to see my in-laws when a 1968 bootleg version of Jimi Hendrix playing ”Sunshine of Your Love” at San Francisco’s Winterland came on the radio. For some reason, hearing Hendrix brought over me that terrible feeling that ultimately engulfed an entire generation — the loss of innocence.
It is true that the 1960s were doomed to failure if success was to be measured by total social revolution. It is also true that icons of the youth movement — John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. — were murdered, showing anyone who doubted it at the time that resistance to change would be violent. But the changes that ultimately came were breathtaking and have become part of the culture we live in today. The liberation of women, gays and minorities was based on equal treatment under the law, and this political argument was carried on by those politically involved.
By 1970, however, the Summer of Love had been replaced by the Summer of Rage, Altamont followed Woodstock, and peaceful change by violent protests. While disillusionment was understandable, it led to the political crisis we are in, where interest groups and zealots maneuver democracy because the electorate can’t be bothered to vote.
It is bad enough that in a hotly contested presidential race we can barely get 60 percent of voters to the polls, but what are we to make of what happens in local elections? Primaries, the key event to put forward new candidates, in Lehigh and Northampton counties average 15 percent of the registered voters. When we finally get to a head-to-head contest, if 40 percent of all eligible voters come out it is seen as stupendous.
The same problem exists with membership in civic organizations. Boards of non-profits are constantly looking for new members. Fundraising is a struggle and, even though charitable giving is up, there is a malaise in the entire system shown by the fact that a small group of people does all the work.
This public expression of a private desire to be left alone must be turned around; otherwise, others will run our lives and make decisions we will come to profoundly regret, as can be seen with the war in Iraq. We must go back to the days of activism, marches, protests and every other lawful engagement with our government to make change. It is a time for the ’60s generation to give another listen to the old Cream albums and recapture the energy that made them bold.
I finally did get to see Cream the last day of their reunion gig at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 26. It was a chance to experience the original supergroup — the fountainhead of a rock sound that dominated for almost 15 years. I took my 25-year-old son, who graciously agreed to come and share my enthusiasm for what I described to him as a once-in-a-lifetime event. I must confess that the average age at the concert was at least 50 and the snide remark by some critics that this was ”geezer rock” is not entirely unfounded. But what a show.
Just seeing Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker alive together was moving. Then, being regaled with two hours of electric blues, a musical form I predict will one day come back because, unlike rap and hip-hop it has the power to last, was like dipping into the fountain of youth. It was all there by a band that only lasted from 1966 to 1968: ”White Room,” ”Crossroads,” ”Badge” and the other great cuts.
For some reason, ”Strange Brew” was left out, but ”Tales of Brave Ulysses” alone was worth the price of admission, which, incidentally, was so high that American Express sent me an e-mail asking if someone had stolen my credit card.
It was a great and memorable evening. As I left with my son, who still says he wants to be a lawyer, enter politics and repair the world, all I could do was hum the one song Cream didn’t play but captured the spirit of their time — ”I Feel Free.”